The Big Ones: Musk Ox

Most fiber artists and crafters realize sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas are sheared for their fleece. What about the arctic musk oxen (Ovibos moschatus)?

They are most definitely not sheared … as you could probably guess from these pictures.  🙂  Watch this clip from Animal Planet and tell me if you’d brush a musk ox!

Their weight ranges anywhere from nearly 400 pounds (181 kg) to close to 900 pounds (400 kg); they can be close to 7 feet (over 2 m) long and measure 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder.

A musk ox (pic from National Geographic), has a two-layered coat, and qiviut (an Innuit word and sometimes seen spelled as qiviuk) is the undercoat.  Traditionally, each spring the native peoples collected the tuffs and clumps of qiviut shed by the musk oxen and/or caught on the underbrush of the arctic tundra.  Musk oxen are not sheared, though I have seen videos of people brushing a musk ox who is kept snug inside small (and high) wooden enclosure.  Qivuit is also obtained from the pelts of hunted musk oxen.

Interestingly, musk oxen have no musk glands and are not oxen; they are more closely related to goats and sheep. Musk oxen are ungulates (hooved mammals), ruminants (have 4-chambered stomachs and chew their cud [partially regurgitated food]) and eat a wide variety of foods such as lichens, grasses, and leaves.

For those who fear shrinking fine handmade woolens, try quivit!  Quivit will not shrink at any temperature.  Softer than cashmere and approximately 18 microns, it is stronger and 8 times warmer than sheep’s wool!

The downside is qiviut is very pricey.  Thor gave me some 100% qivuit for my birthday one year that I knit into a lace triangle neck scarf.  (He bought it from Paradise Fibers.)  I make sure that is in my suitcase when I travel.  If the temperature drops, the beautiful scarf wraps my neck in amazing warmth.


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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15 Responses to The Big Ones: Musk Ox

  1. Even worse, it was $90 for a VERY small skein – I forget how many grams – but it had a fair yardage. Enough to make a beautiful lacy neck scarf for me. 🙂


  2. writeknit says:

    Holy Moly! $90 a ball for this yarn??!! It must be really special and hard to get! Cool post.


  3. Indeedy. Mistranslations, bad hearing and illiteracy are always a bad combination. 🙂


  4. Thank you … I love learning from others’ blog posts too!


  5. Oh yes … like people who immigrated here and were given “new” names at Ellis Island!


  6. I’m glad that they aren’t actually musk animals after all, that didn’t seem such a good idea for yarn! There are so many animals that owe their names to mistranslations and misunderstanding. 🙂


  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I love learning about new yarns and techniques.


  8. Yes, though I haven’t had the courage to try to shrink my qiviut scarf!:)


  9. It makes me wonder who came up with the name, and why?!


  10. caityrosey says:

    Had no idea that quivet doesn’t shrink. How interesting.


  11. I had no idea musk oxen were so misnamed. Interesting!


  12. Indeed! Though some fibers are much more fun to work with and wear! 🙂


  13. Thank you. (The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know! 🙂 ) I’ve only knit once with qiviut, but I use that scarf more than any other … a lot of warm in a small triangle lace neck scarf. (It took me about 2-3 months to decide on the lace patterns I wanted to incorporate! I started from the tip and worked up [wider] and stopped only when I almost out of yarn. 🙂 Agreed: they’re cute … though I wouldn’t want to try to pull fur off their bodies!


  14. HannahDavis says:

    I’m so glad you’re doing these informative fiber posts! I thought I knew a lot already but clearly there’s much more to learn! Musk oxen yarn sounds amazing! They’re kinda cute, too.


  15. Northern Narratives says:

    Very interesting post. I think if the hair is good enough to keep the animal warm, it will probably keep us warm too.


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